Behcet’s disease is a rare, chronic disorder involving inflammation of blood vessels throughout the body. It is marked by recurrent oral and genital ulcers and eye inflammation.
The cause of Behcet’s disease is unknown. It is believed to be caused by an autoimmune reaction. This occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissue by mistake. This autoimmune abnormality may be inherited. An environmental trigger, such as a specific virus or bacterium, may activate the disease in people susceptible to it.
Although the exact cause of Behcet’s disease is unknown, some groups of people are more likely to develop the condition than others. Factors that may increase your risk of Behcet's include:
Location: the Middle East, Asia, and Japan
In the US, men are more likely than women to develop this condition.In the Middle East, Asia, and Japan, women are more likely than men to develop Behcet’s.Age: 20s and 30s
Symptoms of Behcet’s disease can vary from mild to very severe. Symptoms tend to appear, heal, and then recur (referred to as a flare) frequently over months or years. The most common symptoms of the disease are:
Affect almost all people with the diseaseUsually are the first to appearUsually last for 10 to 14 daysCan be painfulCan cause scarring
In men: appear on the penis and/or scrotumIn women: appear on the vulva or within the vaginaCan be painfulCan cause scarring
Uveitis—inflammation of the middle part of the eye, including the iris
Tends to cause eye redness, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, and watering eyesIf not treated, can cause partial vision loss or blindnessArthritis
—inflammation of joints
Tends to be painfulUsually does not cause permanent joint damage
Skin problems, such as sores
May appear as red, raised sores or bumps, or may be flat (flush with the skin)Usually appear on the legs and upper torso
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Other symptoms of the disease may include:
Severe fatigue during a flare
(inflammation of veins), usually in the legs
Can cause severe complications if not treated quicklyAneurysms
, or severely dilated blood vessels
May rupture and cause severe consequences
Heart problems, such as:
Abnormal heart rhythmsMissed heartbeatsEarly heartbeats
Inflammation of the heart muscle (
Central nervous system problems
For example, meningoencephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain and membrane that lines the brain
May result in
, memory problems, headaches
Causes ulcers and inflammation of the digestive tract (rarely)
Stroke from a Cerebral Aneurysm
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Diagnosing Behcet’s disease is very difficult because:
Symptoms are similar to those of many other diseases.Symptoms often appear very slowly, over months or years.There is no specific test to confirm the disease.
A doctor may suspect Behcet’s disease if oral sores appear at least three times within a year, and at least two of the following recurring symptoms appear:
Eye inflammationGenital soresSkin sores
If Behcet’s disease is suspected, your doctor will do tests to rule out other diseases with similar symptoms. Also, you may have a pathergy skin test. For this test, your skin is pricked with a small needle. If you have Behcet’s disease, a bump will develop at the site of the skin prick. However, this test is not conclusive. Many people with the disease do not have a reaction to the skin prick.
There is no cure for Behcet’s disease however spontaneous regression may occur. Treatment is aimed at limiting and preventing complications from symptoms. With proper treatment, the disease can usually be managed fairly well. Treatment includes medications, rest, and exercise.
Both topical and oral medications are used.
Topical medications include creams, lotions, and mouth rinses that contain corticosteroids (to cut down on inflammation) and/or anesthetics (to decrease pain). These are applied to sores to reduce inflammation and pain.
Oral medications, include:
Oral corticosteroids—to reduce inflammation and pain
Immunosuppressive drugs—to help control the overactive immune system. These may include:
Many of the drugs used to treat Behcet’s disease can cause severe side effects. If you are taking these medications your doctor must closely monitor you.
General guidelines include:
Rest when symptoms flare to help speed healing.Engage in moderate exercise when symptoms recede to help keep joints flexible and strong.
There are no guidelines for the prevention of Behcet's disease because the exact cause is unknown.
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Last reviewed November 2012 by Michael J. Fucci, DO
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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